Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Whosplayin Interviews John McClelland

A new political season is kicking off and Whosplayin is back doing what it does best -providing in-depth interviews with the candidates. Here's a preview of Steve Southwell's interview of Dallas City Council candidate John McClelland. To read the rest, click here.

WhosPlayin: Dallas, and indeed the entire North Texas area suffers from very poor air quality. As you know, the air we breathe doesn't respect city limits and state borders. Mayor Laura Miller has taken a pro-active role in reaching out with other cities to prevent the proposed TXU coal-fired power plants to our west. What actions can the City of Dallas take to protect its natural resources and still be the thriving center of commerce that it is?

John McClelland: I believe the city could be a model in using alternative energy if we put our minds to it. Many of the DART buses already run on natural gas, which keeps emissions lower than diesel burning engines. We could possibly replace other city vehicles with flex fuel vehicles once they become cost effective for the city to purchase. DART's 2030 plan may also help to lower car use in the city once it expands the bus service and builds new rail lines throughout the city. Using mass transit is a matter of convenience to people, so it has to be easy to access. And in reference to what Mayor Miller is doing, I think it is wonderful. The air quality here certainly does not need to be made worse by TXU. My allergies are bad enough as it is. I can not imagine what asthma sufferers go through. I believe Rick Perry has been enjoying too much of the TXU Kool-Aid if he thinks fast tracking these polluting plants is a good idea.

WhosPlayin: What is your view of the proper role of city government, and is the Dallas Council getting it right? In other words, where would you do more, and what do you think the city council should avoid?

John McClelland: I think the current City Council and Mayor all have the right intentions for our city. I don't believe they intentionally try to do the wrong thing. But I think our Council has lost sight of what reality is sometimes. Some of the City Council members would rather rule their own little city district as a principality unto itself and ignore everyone else, but I do not believe that is how our city should be run. We need to look at the broader picture and help the entire city, even though as a Councilman I would represent only a smaller section. However with the
situation being that we have a City Manager who is supposed to actually run our city, with the support of the City Council (and a Mayor who is no more than just another Council member in terms of power), we all need to work together to make the city function. And that will especially be true this spring when we are set to replace at least ½ of the current City Council, as well as the Mayor. It will be a new Council with fresh ideas, I hope.

WhosPlayin: I can see your point there. When I think of the reality of what I expect out of my city, the first things that come to my mind are reliable utilities, garbage pickup, code enforcement, and police and fire protection. Do you think the council spends too much time on lofty ideas for "projects" rather than oversight of essential city services? You mentioned the Trinity River Project on your website.

John McClelland: Some of the council has its head in the clouds, no doubt. The goal is to make Dallas an attractive, nice place to live. But when you're a citizen of the city, the small things are what matter in every day life. And they need to be taken with as much seriousness as any project that wants to reroute a river. Making sure Time Warner is doing what it is supposed to be doing; making sure the trash collection is being managed in the right way; helping to alleviate why it took a fire station 15 minutes to respond to a lightning strike that burnt a house to the ground- those are the items a Councilman should be more in tune with. They may be small to people with lofty goals, but they are no less important.

Please visit his website and make a generous contribution to John McClelland's campaign.

Monday, February 26, 2007

why the txu buyout is good for texas

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group will participate in the biggest corporate buyout in history as they purchase embattled energy utility TXU for a staggering $32 billion. The aforementioned will also assume around $13 billion in debt.

Today's NBC 5 4 p.m. broadcast mentioned that consumers will save a total of 10% on their energy bills: 6% by the end of March and 4% after the sale is final.

If that's not good enough for you, the deal also includes a provision to scrap eight of the controversial outdated coal plants. Thanks to this buyout, we can all breathe a little easier (and quite literally).

If this isn't good news for Texans, I don't know what is.

Job's Anger has more on how the buyout could save our environment. McBlogger has a take on the motivation for the deal. For a more in-depth look at the compromise, check out Capitol Annex.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

the oscars go green

After Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore announced that this year's Academy Awards ceremony was 100% green (a.k.a. environmentally-friendly), it was revealed that the voters of the Academy bestowed honors upon Al Gore's critically-acclaimed and eye-opening masterpiece with an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Later it was announced that Melissa Etheridge's heart-felt song from that documentary, "I Need to Wake Up," was the Best Song.

NTL congratulates tonight's big winners! We hope that this esteem and recognition will bring this important documentary to a wider audience. The film is now on DVD, so if you didn't see it in theatres, buy it or rent it!

Together we can make a difference!

Friday, February 23, 2007

TXU to Judge: Global Warming Not Our Concern

The Huffington Post has an article on the TXU court debate in which the company makes clear its complete and utter lack of concern for the effects of catastrophic global climate change. If you ever needed a clearer example of why an unfettered free market isn't the solution to all our problems, consider this quote, which takes a page right out of the Lee Raymond school of public policy.

A lawyer for TXU Corp has told the judges who will rule on whether it can build a slew of new coal-burning power plants here that global warming is not on the docket, and none of their concern.

"It's for kings and presidents and world leaders to decide how to address global warming," argued TXU attorney John Riley. "It's not for air permit hearings."

With no kings in sight, Texans who oppose TXU's plan to build 11 new plants across the state are nonetheless looking to two administrative judges to block the plan.

They argue it would double CO2 emissions here overnight. Texas already emits more of the greenhouse gas than any other state in the country.

But in court Wednesday, Riley said all that was beside the point. "What we can do to forestall global warming?", he asked. "The scientists still quarrel over it. But it is a very big issue."

"For instance, India is going to build 300 of these plants over the next 10 years, and China 500. My point is, 10 plants is not the significant contributor to the problem that the counsel" is trying to make it into.

In a courtroom where the air conditioner was running on an 80-degree day in February, Riley also questioned whether the US should even want to get ahead of India and China on the issue.

"Does the U.S. want to take that step before others do?"

Now no one is denying that India and China's decision to rely heavily on coal to power their emerging markets is a terrible dilemma and one that needs more public discourse. But that didn't stop the European Union from recommending even tighter restrictions when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Lawyers representing environmental groups opposing the permitting process argue that TXU has a monetary incentive to build as many coal burning plants as possible before a widely expected carbon dioxide emissions cap and trade program is instituted.

Court documents obtained from attorneys for the opposition show that in a conference call in August of '06, TXU officials did speak in detail about how CO2 regulations might work to their advantage.

"While we are not suggesting that a cap and trade program is the right answer, it is one of the many scenarios we modeled," said Jonathan Siegler, the company's vice president for strategy and mergers and acquisitions, according to a transcript.

"If a program similar to the Kyoto Protocol was put into effect in the US," Siegler said on the call, "it would impact TXU in the following ways. Based on the average allocations in the UK, TXU would receive allocations for 70 percent of its current CO2 emissions."

In other words, [attorney Steve] Susman said, the higher the emissions going in, the better for the company.

And elsewhere, Mitchell Schnurman suggests that allowing TXU to build its proposed coal burning power plants will provide a competitive edge that no other company would be able to overcome. According to David Litman, of Texas Business for Clean Air:

TXU getting its way would suck the oxygen out of the market because TXU's price basis would be so low, Litman says. Others couldn't match its costs because they couldn't build as many plants or have the same kind of existing environmental permits.

Hearings on the power plant permits are scheduled to resume June 27.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

McClelland Announces for Dallas City Council

The race for Dallas City Council has a newly declared candidate for District 12 (Far North Dallas). John McClelland has announced his intention of running for the seat. When NTL asked John why he was running he responded....

"I believe it is my civic duty to give back to a city that I've been able to call home for the last 5 years. I want to steer Dallas in the right direction. We need a city government who will stop wasteful spending of our citizens' tax dollars. We need a City Council who feels they are not above the law. We should be model citizens, not model felons.

I am also running my campaign in memory of my brother. He died a year ago to the day I announced my intentions to run. He was a sergeant in the Army and had just returned home from his 2nd tour in Iraq, only to die in a tragic accident. I want to serve my city in the same way my brother served his country."

McClelland will face incumbent Ron Natinsky in the May 12th election. For more information, check out the post on Whosplayin, or visit John's website: www.johnfordallascitycouncil.com

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hearings on Coal Burning Power Plants Delayed

Since Governor Perry announced the fast-tracking of permits for coal burning power plants, opponents of the decision have been looking to the courts to intercede in the permitting process. Now the hearings scheduled to begin this week have been delayed by a Travis County District Judge.

Tuesday's injunction is a win for the anti-coal-pollution groups, which include environmentalists, business leaders, politicians and TXU competitors.

They've been fighting the company's plan to build 11 more coal-fired power plants for the past year and have questioned whether Gov. Rick Perry is a little too close to TXU......

Since he issued the order, the governor has received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from interests associated with the 16 coal projects proposed by various power companies.

The four environmental coalitions joining in the suit were Citizens for Environmental Cleanup, Citizens Organizing for Resources and Environment, Texans Protecting our Water, Environment and Resources, and East Texas Environmental Concerns.

One concern expressed in the injunction was that the stepped-up timetable for hearings, reduced from one year to six months, would not allow enough time to thoroughly review the permit.

Also at issue is the gubernatorial fiat that fast-tracked the hearings. Questions concerning Governor Perry's executive order might open the door to question other policy debates, including the 65% rule and the mandatory HPV vaccine.

Every delay in the process makes it more likely that any of several legislative measures for moratoriums on coal-fired plants, or mandated reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to curb global warming, will also come into play.
Under its current timeline, TXU expected to obtain the first permit for its 858-MW "reference" plant and begin construction before the end of June. Its goal was to put the first plant into service in the fall of 2009. Any delay in the hearing process will make it less likely that TXU can meet its stated targets.
More at Off the Kuff, BOR and Capitol Annex.

No COLA for Texas Teachers

A 3% raise doesn't sound like much, especially when electricity and gasoline prices seem to have soared by double digits in recent months. Still, Social Security's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) of 3.3% for 2007 at least partially offsets these rising costs for seniors, even if most of the raise is subsumed by higher Medicare premiums.

Retired Texas teachers are not so lucky.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas has no COLA provision. Instead, retired teachers must lobby--that is, beg--their legislators each biennium for any increase in their benefits. The last time they were successful was 2001. Since then, inflation has eroded their purchasing power by more than 15%.

Senator Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, has filed Senate Bill 492 to give retired teachers a one-time 5% raise. While Senator Lucio is to be lauded for his efforts, such stop-gap measures do not solve the underlying problem, the lack of an automatic COLA provision.

As currently funded, however, the Teacher Retirement System could not afford COLA increases. Here's why: Until the 1996-97 biennium, the state contribution rate to TRS was 7.31%, while teachers paid in 6.4%. A budget crunch that year prompted the legislature to lower the state's contribution to 6%, the minimum allowed by the Texas Constitution. Legislators promised that the reduction would be temporary, but 10 years later, it is still in place. As a result, TRS has lost billions in funding.

Despite the possibility of budget surpluses this biennium, the legislature is unlikely to restore state funding of TRS to 7.31%. State Affairs Chairman Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, agrees that the state should increase its funding, perhaps matching teachers' contributions of 6.4%, but he has suggested that this increase may come from requiring school districts to contribute to TRS, as well.

Senator Duncan is thus advocating a familiar course of action for our Republican-run legislature: Claim to be holding the line against raising taxes, while pushing responsibility for funding education to the local level. Taxes must still be raised to meet the unfunded mandate, but Senator Duncan and his colleagues get political cover.

In the meantime, Texas' retired teachers must try to survive on their steadily eroding pensions. Let them eat cake, anyone?

tony blair will confirm timetable for withdrawal of british troops from iraq

7,000 British troops are serving in Iraq, 3,000 of whom will spend Christmas with their families this year.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to announce to the House of Commons tomorrow that he will set a timetable for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq: 1,500 in the next few months; 3,000 by the end of the year.

Mr Blair's expected announcement comes US President George W Bush said he wanted to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq.

Last month, the Liberal Democrats called for all UK troops to be withdrawn by October.

But Mr Blair said that to "set an arbitrary timetable... that we will pull British troops out in October, come what may... would send the most disastrous signal to the people we are fighting in Iraq".
Blair has apparently had a change of heart, which is good news for the thousands of British soldiers in Iraq and their families at home.

It's also good news for the royal family, who expected to send Prince Harry to the line of battle:
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in January that the United Kingdom was unlikely to send any more troops to Iraq.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Debating TXU's Coal Burning Power Plants

Sunday's editorial by Bernard L. Weinstein argues the case for fast-tracking TXU's coal-burning power plants. Weinstein's arguments can be condensed as follows:

  1. Coal is cheap.
  2. Texas needs to add more power capacity.
  3. Conservation alone won't make up for the projected gap.
  4. Did we mention coal is cheap?

As to the cheap part, and it bears repeating, coal is inexpensive only when viewed in the short term.

But coal is only profitable because its pollution-related costs -- blasted mountains, increases in asthma and heart attacks, neurological damage from toxic mercury, environmental chaos caused by global warming -- are all offloaded onto the public.

As to the other arguments, the second and third are related. Yes, it's a virtual certainty that Texas will need additional sources of power, and conservation and clean energy sources alone probably won't meet those needs. But an investment in renewables and greater energy efficiency now would buy us time to fully consider the pros and cons of a policy that comes with enormous risks.

And speaking of those risks, the interesting thing about Weinstein's editorial is not so much what it included, as what it didn't. If you Google TXU and global warming, you'll get about 128,000 hits. The role that carbon dioxide emissions from additional coal-burning power plants would play in global warming is currently the subject of heated debate, not just in Texas, but on a national scale. And yet the term global warming is never mentioned in the editorial.

Weinstein is a professor of applied economics at the University of North Texas. As such, it hardly comes as a surprise that his focus is on the costs of energy and its impact to business. But it might also be worth noting that Professor Weinstein has done research for the North Texas Future Fund, which is a 501(c)(3) created by the North Texas Commission. The NTC site lists TXU as one of its major investors. And guess who sits on the board of directors for both NTC and NTFF?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cornyn Is Unwavering in Support for Bush on Iraq

In a rare Saturday session, the Senate failed once again to advance a nonbinding resolution to the floor for a vote that would have condemned the President's Iraq escalation. The latest proposal floated in the Senate was identical in wording to the House resolution that passed earlier in the week.

The United States Senate met for a rare weekend session Saturday to vote on taking up a House-passed resolution opposing a troop increase in Iraq. And, just as they did last week in a similar vote, Senate Republicans managed to block the resolution from consideration.

The measure picked up several Republican Senators who deferred to pressure from Republican leadership in the last debate - including Snowe, Hagel and Warner. Of course, both Texas Senators voted against advancing the resolution. Senator John Cornyn has been especially strident in his support of the administration, sticking like glue to Bush's failed war policies. Despite falling poll numbers, Cornyn hasn't softened one whit on his stance on the war - whatever George Bush wants, George Bush gets.

He is certain that President Bush's decision to send more troops into battle is the right move. He is certain that Democratic war thinking is wrong. Despite the growing misgivings of so many GOP lawmakers, Cornyn is certain that the United States should stay in Iraq until the job is done.

Stay until the job is done....can someone please define what that means? Because it sure sounds as though he's advocating for an indefinite stay.

He not only supports Bush's troop-increase plan, he describes any alternative in the starkest possible terms. "Are we going to allow Iraq to become another failed state which will then serve as a launching pad for future terrorist attacks, perhaps including against the United States?" Cornyn asked during a recent Senate floor speech.

That might have been a good question to ask a few years ago, when there was still hope of avoiding the hard choices brought on by civil war. But it ignores the reality on the ground, which is that Iraq is already one of the most dangerous places on earth, and it happened on our watch. As stated in a previous post...

".....stay the course" is no longer the Republican mantra, but other than semantics, nothing has changed. The administration still has no plans for a troop drawdown, no idea how to quell the sectarian violence, no definition for victory and no intention of admitting the truth. In the face of the recent meltdown, the Republican candidates' grim determination to keep uttering nonsense about "winning" is supposed to be viewed as being resolute. Actually, such obstinacy only serves to reinforce the reality that they cannot be trusted to manage the mess that they created or to level with the American public about our limited options. This is political posturing at its worst.

And as for the overwhelming public disapproval on the conduct of the war, Cornyn seems not to notice.

The freshman senator is such a throwback to the early days of GOP fealty to Bush that his Senate Web site includes a "compassionate conservatism" link. Choosing survival over solidarity, other Republicans are seeking political cover. Cornyn, 55, is one of 20 GOP senators up for re-election in 2008, but he is trying a different strategy from most of the others: unwavering loyalty......

Cornyn is a favorite at the White House, where he remains a Bush insider and close friend of Karl Rove. But his unalloyed defense of Bush's Iraq policies have some back home wondering whether he has gone too far.

"He's pretty much married himself to the president and to Karl" Rove, Bush's top political adviser, said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report political newsletter. "I'm just speculating, but we like to see a modest amount of independence here in Texas."

Friday, February 16, 2007

north texas man greets troops

Via Right of Texas, we find this video clip of a North Texas man, Bert Brady, who greets American soldiers as they come home through DFW International Airport. The soldiers deserve this after the harrowing ordeal they endured in their honorable service.

We disagree with the war, but the failed policy is not the fault of the soldiers. They deserve a warm welcome home.

If you're interested in participating in the Welcome Home A Hero program at the DFW International Airport, click here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

North Texans Debate the President's Escalation Plans

H. Con. Res. 63 --Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That--
(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and
(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

As rumors of Republican defections surface, the congressional debate on the Iraq Resolution continues unabated today.

Despite having failed to secure any resolution to the Iraq crisis while in power, the Republicans now promise to snipe at any proposal, no matter how cautious, that would criticize the President's failed war plans. The House version of the Iraq Resolution is a non-binding statement opposing the President's plan to send more troops to Iraq. Make no mistake - Bush is determined to proceed with this ill-conceived plan, despite the lack of support from Congress, the military or the American people. It's a huge political risk, and judging from this post from Gonzo Muckraker, the Republicans know it.

The stench of political desperation became so rank last week that a wisely anonymous staffer from the offices of either Rep. Shadegg (Arr-AZ) or Rep. Hoekstra (Arr-MI) leaked an insider memo to GOP friendlies, outlining how the party will attempt to avoid the debate. Their “strategy” - quoted verbatim - is …

“The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.”

Read the resolution. Anyone voting against this resolution is voting for escalation. Given the unpopularity of Bush's proposal, the Republicans don't want to debate that issue, so they simply sidestep it altogether. Instead, they whine, misdirect and fall back on the tired fear-mongering that got us here in the first place.

Let's see which of our North Texas Republicans got the memo. Here is a selection of comments from the floor of the House yesterday.

Pete Sessions (R- Dallas): "With this resolution my colleagues on the other side of the aisle provide the troops with nothing: no guarantees that we will continue to fund their heroic efforts; no guarantees that Congress will heed the advice of the Iraq Study group -- which notes on page 73 of their report that it would 'support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission.'

Nor does it provide the American people with a clear picture of our direction in Iraq -- it simply says 'no' to the only strategy for success which has been put forward."

Michael Burgess (R- Lewisville): "When I was in Iraq in August of 2005, General Casey told myself and a group of us who were there, that 'There is no group in the world that can stand up to the American military. In fact, the only organized body in the world capable of defeating the American military was the American Congress.' I believe he was right......"

"I fully recognize that by voting against this resolution, I put myself in jeopardy of re-election, and I am willing to do that because I believe a vote for this resolution puts my country's fate in significant jeopardy for decades to come. ... Is it in our road national interest to win this fight? Can we prevail? Can we provide a modicum of security in the country of Iraq? Can we provide a modicum of sovereignty in the country of Iraq? For me, the answer ... is yes."

So Burgess is prepared to stake his future re-election on support for the surge. Let's see how that plays out in 2008.

[Note: C-SPAN has video links for the full text of the speeches, sorted by state. As soon as the link is updated, we'll provide it. ]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

texas clean air cities coalition: important meeting

The public is invited to attend the next Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition membership meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20 in Waco. The meeting will convene at 6:30 p.m. at the Waco Convention Center.
On the eve of the permit hearing for proposed coal-fired plants, the TCACC will release the results of the most comprehensive air modeling ever performed in the state on the effects of 18 new coal plants currently proposed for Texas, including 11 TXU plants.

By combining this air modeling with Google Earth technology, you will be able to see animation depicting the emissions coming from the proposed plants and traveling the skies over the State of Texas.

An academic team led by Dr. David Allen, Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources at the University of Texas-Austin, performed the air modeling over the past several months at the request of TCACC.

Steve Susman of Susman Godfrey LLP will also present an overview of the TCACC’s case to the state.

Dr. Allen, who serves on the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board, will testify on the results of his air modeling in the permit hearing scheduled to begin the following day, February 21st, in Austin on six of TXU's plant applications.

The TCACC is made up of 36 cities, counties and school boards across the state representing 7.2 million Texans.
Transportation has been arranged for North Texas citizens that are interested in attending this meeting. A Charter bus will be departing from Reunion Arena at 4 p.m. on the day of the meeting. You can ride along for a fee of $10 (snacks provided). Please RSVP by this Friday, Feb. 16, by calling (214) 670-4054.

Please forward this information to anyone that may be interested, as per request by Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, an opponent to the outdated coal plants.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Penalizing Texas Teachers

A recent editorial in the Dallas Morning News featured Faye Higgs, a 24-year-old customer service representative who decided that her real calling was to be a teacher. Having already earned a degree in Criminal Justice, Higgs qualified for DISD's alternative certification program and, after taking evening classes and state exams, last fall she began a new career as a special education teacher. The editorial declared, "It's never too late to start a career in teaching."

Not mentioned in the News editorial--nor, mostly likely, in the alternative certification classes--was the impact Higgs' decision will have on her retirement. Unless laws are changed, Higgs and others who change careers to become teachers will lose part or all of their Social Security benefits.

Two Social Security rules are to blame, the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. Although it is ludicrous to label any government pension a "windfall," WEP applies to government workers--state or federal--who receive a pension from a job that does not pay into Social Security. Texas teachers, for example, pay into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, but most districts have opted out of Social Security, perhaps because they do not want to pay the employer's portion of FICA taxes.

So, what is the problem? Why would teachers expect to receive Social Security when they have not paid into it? The answer is that they have paid Social Security, perhaps all their working lives. Beginning in high school, through college, continuing in second jobs at night and in the summer once they began their teaching career, teachers have had payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks. Because these jobs were part-time or low paying, however, they do not meet Social Security's threshold of 30 years of "substantial earnings" to avoid the WEP penalty. A maze of charts quantifies "substantial earnings" and the resulting benefit reductions, but in the end, Texas teachers receive far less than their FICA-covered earnings would have provided had they not been public servants.

Another provision, the Government Pension Offset, also impacts teacher retirement, specifically spousal benefits. Normally, spouses of Social Security recipients receive up to one-half of their husband or wife's benefit. However, for those covered by a government pension, even if it is a state pension, the spousal Social Security benefit is reduced by two-thirds of the amount of the other pension. Generally, that means no spousal benefit at all. While at first glance this penalty may seem justified, had the spouse never worked at all, he or she would have qualified for the spousal benefit. Public service thus becomes a liability.

A bill before Congress, HR 82, the Social Security Fairness Act, would remedy these inequities. A number of our local Representatives in North Texas have signed on as co-sponsors, probably not because they are concerned about teachers, but because these penalties are a disincentive for people to leave the private sector and become teachers. Since Texas is suffering a teacher shortage, we need to remove as many obstacles as possible for people like Faye Higgs.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

dixie chicks win album of the year, four other grammy awards

NTL congratulates the Dixie Chicks on winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for their 2006 release Taking the Long Way. Lead singer Natalie Maines noted in her acceptance speech, "I think people are expressing their freedom of speech tonight." Their colleagues made a strong statement indeed by awarding the Texas band, notorious for speaking out against President Bush, with multiple Grammy Awards tonight. In another acceptance speech, Maines laughed, "I, for the first time in my life, am speechless!" After five wins, though, Maines said she was "ready to make nice."

ntl celebrates black history: senfronia thompson

State Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, stood on the House floor in Austin back in 2005 and said the following poignant words:
Members, I'm a Christian and a proud Christian. I read the good book, and do my best to live by it. I have never read the verse where it says, "gay people can't marry." I have never read the verse where it says, "though shalt discriminate against those not like me." I have never read the verse where it says, "let's base our public policy on hate and fear and discrimination." Christianity to me is love and hope and faith and forgiveness -- not hate and discrimination.
So, now that blacks and women can vote, and now that blacks and women have equal rights -- you turn your hatred to homosexuals -- and you still use your misguided reading of the Bible to justify your hatred.
Thompson was talking about the 2005 referendum to constitutionally ban same-sex unions in the state of Texas (a measure that would eventually be voter-approved).

Called "a Democrat to watch," Senfronia Thompson has long been a supporter of equal rights. Her opposition to the discriminatory marriage bill was not the first time she took a stand. She was one of the lawmakers that, in 2003, left the state in protest of Tom DeLay's redistricting fiasco.
Thompson demonstrated her staunch principles last spring when she and 51 of her House colleagues walked out of the Legislature and checked into a motel in Ardmore, Okla. Their absence denied the Republicans the quorum they needed to carry through a scheme by Rove and DeLay for a midterm redrawing of the boundaries of the state’s congressional districts.
Thompson has never been afraid to stand up to the Republicans in power, either. After the famous 2003 walkout, returning Democrats were treated unfairly and consistently undermined by the majority. Thompson openly objected to this treatment.
The Republican leadership also unleashed a full-scale vendetta against the Democrats, with $57,000 fines on each of the Democrats for their walkout. “We must pay it out of our own income, not from campaign funds,” Thompson said. The Republicans also reduced the expense allowance for Democratic staff members to $200 per month. The staff workers parking privileges have been revoked and their vehicles are ticketed and towed if they park in Capitol parking lots. When Democrats attempt to speak, their microphones are turned off.

During floor debate on redistricting, Thompson displayed her disgust at the GOP’s arrogant disregard for House procedures. She walked up to the podium holding up the House rulebook, thick as a Manhattan phone directory, and dropped it with a bang on the floor. The widely respected Texas columnist, Molly [Ivins], wrote that Thompson’s act was an eloquent protest against what she called the “creepin’ fascism” of the Republicans.
“The Republicans in Texas didn’t want to play by the rules,” Thompson said. “Or they make the rules up as they go along. Their aim is to terminate the Democrats.”
In 2006, Thompson ran for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Predictably, she was defeated by incumbent Tom Craddick. But once again, she wasn't afraid to take a stand, even when the odds were stacked against her.

Born in 1939 in Booth, Texas, and raised in Houston, Thompson has served in the State House longer than any other African-American, and longer than any other woman in Texas history. In addition to her numerous achievements, Thompson was named 1995's “Woman of the Year” by the bipartisan Texas Women's Political Caucus.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Voucher Rally in Austin Hints at Things to Come

A rally in Austin, led by a James Leininger-backed PAC, urged legislators on Wednesday to back bills allowing pilot programs for school vouchers. The PAC, Texans for School Choice, is the same group that ran ads in the metroplex promoting vouchers during election season, using the slogan "Give Parents a Choice, Give Kids a Chance."

Leininger was in attendance at the rally.

Although he was not a speaker at the rally, Republican activist James Leininger grabbed attention just for his appearance. Leininger, of San Antonio, has spent billions of dollars in recent years backing Republican candidates who support vouchers and other conservative causes, but he has tended to keep out of the public eye.

The group delivered letters in support of vouchers.

The letters were delivered to the offices of Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, Miller said.

Mansfield pastor Kyev Tatum, who led a bus load of supporters from Tarrant County to the rally, said the obstacle lies in minority lawmakers who won’t properly lead on the issue.

“The only way it will have a chance is if the black and brown legislators wake up.  . . .  We can’t get [state representative] Marc Veasey’s support because he can’t stop playing party politics,” Tatum said, referring to the Fort Worth Democrat.

Veasey said he has no plans of backing down on his opposition to vouchers. “I’m a proud product of the Fort Worth ISD, my wife is a proud product of the Fort Worth ISD  . . .  and my child will be also,” Veasey said.

Both Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst are signaling that vouchers will be a big push from Republicans in this legislative session. Several posts cover this today - Capitol Annex, Burnt Orange Report, Texas Kaos and Off the Kuff.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

State Senators Weigh in on HPV Vaccine

In the firestorm that erupted since Governor Perry ordered mandatory vaccination of girls with Gardasil, (the human papilloma virus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer), 31 State Senators have requested Perry to rescind his order. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, has taken the lead on this issue.
The letter, originated by Lewisville Republican Jane Nelson, says that Perry should wait until lawmakers have a chance to examine the issue and perhaps enact legislation before the policy is implemented. Nelson and others have said Perry’s action puts the state government in a role that would be better left to parents......

Nelson has also asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to examine the legality of Perry’s order and whether it requires the Legislature to appropriate money. The appropriation of state money is a legislative prerogative.

There is some good rationale on each side of this debate, but there is also a great deal of political posturing going on right now. Rather than try to sort it all out, read Off the Kuff's rebuttal and Rep. Jessica Farrar's letter, or catch Farrar's YouTube broadcast on Musings.

Former Democratic candidate for Governor, Chris Bell, has expressed his support of Perry's decision.

If young women don't get this vaccine now, hundreds of them will get cervical cancer and die. HPV causes cervical cancer, and the FDA has approved this vaccine and says it can prevent about 70% of cervical cancers that led to 391 deaths in Texas in 2006 alone. This is why the Center for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society recommend that all young women aged 11-12 get vaccinated, and it's why I called for this same action during the campaign.

It is worth noting that there is no thimerosal or mercury in the HPV vaccine. Mercury was removed from most vaccines after concerns were raised about a possible link between thimerosal and the development of autism.

Monday, February 05, 2007

States Introduce Resolutions on Iraq

The news from the Senate floor today wasn't good, even though it played out as expected. The Democrats lost the cloture vote to end debate over troop escalation, which in turn prevented a vote on the Warner-Levin resolution. Whether that comes as a relief or frustration depends on your theory of how the vote will play out in the political arena. Sen. Harry Reid certainly viewed it as a setback.

But there is some encouraging news regarding resolutions in another political theater - state legislatures. David Sirota, a co-chair of Progressive States Network, has a post listing 22 states that now have introduced resolutions condemning the troop escalation in Iraq.

On the eve of critical U.S. Senate votes this week on President Bush's Iraq escalation plan, the Progressive States Network announced today that over 20 state legislatures so far have introduced resolutions opposing the President's move and demanding Congress use its power to stop the so-called "surge......

"States have the power and authority to speak out on issues that will impact them and their citizens," said Joel Barkin, executive director of the Progressive States Network. "An escalation in Iraq would cripple our already over-extended guard units, threatening readiness at home."

And in case you missed it, number nineteen on the list is Texas. Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed a resolution (HR 184) last week condemning the troop surge. Here is Coleman's statement from his press release.

"Our troops in Iraq have performed exceedingly well under difficult and dire circumstances, but the reality is that previous increases of troop strength haven't improved things in Iraq. We cannot send more troops into harm's way, and if the only way to keep that from happening is for Congress to block funding for escalating the war, then that's what I hope they will do."

"Here in Texas, we have shouldered much of the burden of the war in Iraq's consequences. Extended tours-of-duty in Iraq have put a significant strain on the Texas National Guard. Our state alone has lost two hundred and seventy nine brave men and women serving in our armed forces since the start of the war. The war has cost Texans tens of billions of dollars that could have been better spent on other domestic or humanitarian efforts. I hope our leaders in Washington DC recognize the cost of the war and do not escalate our involvement in Iraq."

Those of you in North Texas who want to urge your legislators to support Rep. Coleman's resolution can click here.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

ntl celebrates black history: ida b. wells

Bloggers have often been called "citizen journalists." We face obstacles that traditional journalists do not, namely access. Ida B. Wells faced obstacles in her day, as well: she wasn't white.

Ida B. Wells was an activist for civil rights. She campaigned against lynching and protested for women's suffrage. Born in 1862, she was certainly ahead of her time. A Webster University article outlines her struggle:
Wells was characterized as a militant and uncompromising leader for her efforts to abolish lynching and establish racial equality. Wells challenged segregation decades before Rosa Parks, ran for Congress and attended suffrage meetings with the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams, yet most of her efforts are largely unknown due to the fact that she is African American and female.
She was born in Mississippi to a carpenter and a cook, slaves that found freedom only a few years after Ida's birth. She dropped out of school at age 16 to take care of her family after her parents and a sibling died of yellow fever.

She later attended college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was an outspoken advocate for women's rights. According to Wikipedia, she's quoted as writing: "I will not begin at this late day by doing what my soul abhors; sugaring men, weak deceitful creatures, with flattery to retain them as escorts or to gratify a revenge."

In 1884, Wells was asked to abandon a seat on the train she had paid for in first class and instead sit in the smoking car. When she refused, she was physically assaulted by three men, and instead of moving to the smoking car, she exited the train at the next stop. She hired a lawyer and sued; the court awarded her $500 in damages. Wells shared her story with The Living Way, a weekly church newspaper in the black community, and thus began her writing career.

In the late 1800s, Wells toured the United States and Europe on an anti-lynching campaign. In 1909, she helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organization that still exists today.

She died in 1931 after a long life of struggle for equal rights. She was an activist, an advocate, a journalist and a pioneer. Her bold actions undoubtedly helped foster and inspire a civil rights movement that would one day bring equality to our country.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Iraq Resolutions

Those of us who are passionately opposed to the continuation of the Iraq war have mixed feelings about the upcoming debate over the Iraq war resolution in the Senate. Yes, it's good to oppose escalation of the troops, but a non-binding resolution containing watered down language which will certainly be ignored by the White House anyway, hardly seems worth the time. Still, one could argue that something is better than nothing, so when Sen. John Warner, R- Virginia, joined with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to announce his opposition to Bush's plan to escalate the war, that seemed to be a positive sign.

But now comes the news that all 49 Republican Senators are prepared to filibuster next week if the Democrats don't agree to debate additional resolutions introduced on the war. Yes, all those "principled" Republicans - Snowe, Hagel ("go sell shoes"), even John Warner, who is prepared to vote against cloture even if it delays a vote on his own resolution.

Our Texas senators are split, taking different tactics in this debate. Sen. Cornyn, as we know, is an unapologetic supporter of Bush's war. Cornyn explains why he thinks blocking a vote on the resolution is a good thing.
Cornyn said the Biden resolution and another resolution prepared by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also opposing the troop buildup, “are fraught with meaning, and the meaning is all bad.”
There, that was illuminating, wasn't it? But Cornyn wants debate on his own resolution, one that supports the buildup.
Republicans including John McCain of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas have drafted alternative resolutions supporting the president's plan. McConnell didn't say which Republican alternatives should be considered.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, on the other hand, wants to appear moderate while doing nothing to alienate any of the powers that be. Here is her position before the elections last year on whether she regretted her vote to authorize the Iraq war:
The list of those who say they would vote differently is a bipartisan group whose ranks include former and current Republican Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, Bob Smith of New Hampshire, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
Here are her comments from last month regarding the nonbinding resolution opposing troop escalation.
Some Republicans worried that it would undermine Bush's diplomatic efforts on Iraq. "The worst thing we can do as a Congress is to undercut the president internationally," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, said Wednesday on CNN television.
Sometimes it's hard to decide which stance on the war is more contemptible - Cornyn's pigheaded support for the administration's ruinous policies, or Hutchison's "We can have our cake and eat it, too" political posturing.

Meanwhile, the latest NIE (National Intelligence Report) casts serious doubt on our ability to stabilize Iraq.
In the bleakest terms yet, a new U.S. government intelligence assessment warned Friday that Iraq's sectarian violence is now self-sustaining and that the country's forces will be "hard pressed" to assume responsibility for security before mid-2008, despite accelerated U.S. training.
And yet in the midst of this chaos, Bush is asking for another $245 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which would bring the totals to a staggering three-quarters of a trillion dollars. But the President also promised us a balanced budget in five years, so something's gotta give.
"Controlling spending also requires us to address the unsustainable growth of entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid," Bush said. "Spending for these programs is growing faster than inflation, faster than our economy, and faster than our ability to pay for it."
Funny, the same logic doesn't seem to apply when he's asking for a 10.5 percent increase for the Pentagon budget.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

ntl remembers molly ivins

Molly Ivins, likely the most beloved Texan of our time (at least among we progressives), passed away yesterday at the age of 62. She ended a long battle with breast cancer.

Hailing from Austin, Ivins became successful as a reporter and as a best-selling author and political commentator. Later in her career, she became a wildly popular newspaper columnist. Her numerous awards include the David Brower award for journalism from the Sierra Club, the Pringle Prize for Washington Journalism from Columbia University, the Eugene V. Debs Award in the field of journalism, and election to the Academy of Arts and Sciences. She says of all her accolades, though, one of her favorites is getting banned from the campus of Texas A&M University.

Via Texas Kaos, here's the statement released by Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
"Molly Ivins' biting commentary and fierce wit contributed mightily to the political debate in our nation. Through her more than 40 years as both a political observer and national conscience, she exposed the low points of corruption and the high points of dedicated public service - always with good humor.

"Never wavering in her commitment to populist ideals, she was a courageous voice for peace and opportunity. Molly Ivins faced her final battle with cancer with the optimism and dignity that has always been her signature.

"I hope it is a comfort to her family and friends that so many people share their loss and are praying for them at this sad time."
For tributes to Ivins from Texas bloggers, see the following: The Agonist, Brains and Eggs, Burnt Orange Report, Capitol Annex, Gonzo Muckraker, In the Pink Texas, Eye on Williamson County, Feet to the Fire, Marc's Miscellany, McBlogger, Musings, Off the Kuff, The People's Republic of Seabrook, PinkDome, Rhetoric & Rhythm, South Texas Chisme, Texas Kaos, and Three Wise Men.

Also be sure to read Molly's final column: Stand Up Against the Surge. And heed her advice.